June 09, 2011
Terrelle Pryor's rapid descent from hero to pariah at Ohio State was sealed Tuesday with his "voluntary" exit from OSU and the subsequent ESPN report a few hours later that accused him of making money hand over fist — anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 in 2009-10, according to an anonymous source close to Pryor at the time — by selling autographed memorabilia to a freelance photographer, Dennis Talbott, who sold it off online under the handle "ntresselwetrust." With that, Pryor's maddening college career is over — even as Talbott and Pryor's attorney vehemently insist that the story wasn't true:
…yesterday Talbott, a part-time sports photographer who has made no secret of his friendship with Pryor, told The Dispatch the story was absurd.
"I have never given one dollar, one dollar, to Terrelle Pryor," Talbott said.
While Pryor had no comment, his attorney Larry James also gave the story little credence. He said such allegations never came up while Pryor was being interviewed by the NCAA investigators and Ohio State compliance officers the past couple of weeks.
"I tell my partners all the time, 'Don't fight ghosts.' This is a ghost," James said of the report.
The owner of a local memorabilia chain also told the Dispatch that, in his opinion, the numbers in the ESPN story "sound very high for what someone would legitimately pay for such things." Pryor's attorney also told a SiriusXM radio show this morning that "Dennis Talbott is not a deep-pockets player. This is out of his league." (In the same interview, James also described the NCAA's amateur rules as a form of "slavery," and elsewhere, in a separate interview with possibly the worst reporter on earth, called ESPN's allegations "just borderline insane.")
At any rate, if the NCAA wants to ask Terrelle Pryor about anything else in the ESPN report — or about the many cars he brought on campus, or just about anything, in general — now that Pryor has closed the door on his eligibility, it's likely to get a door in the face: James said his client is "done with those folks," and without any kind of subpoena power, they now have no ways of making him talk if he doesn't want to. And he clearly has no intention of talking to anyone.
The NCAA's opinion: It's fine with that. Investigators would certainly prefer an interview or two with Pryor, but they're no strangers to hostile witnesses, and already have far, far more to go on at Ohio State than they ever did in the course of the epic Reggie Bush investigation at USC. In the first place, Pryor has already been confirmed ineligible for the entire 2010 season: The improper memorabilia sales uncovered last December, dating back to at least Pryor's sophomore year in 2009-10, were enough to render him retroactively ineligible even before the inexplicable decision to allow him and four equally culpable teammates to play in the Sugar Bowl. The latest accusations, if true, may expand the scale of that trade, but they don't make him any more ineligible than he already was.
In the second case, the paper trail leading from Jim Tressel's hard drive is the kind of smoking gun that should render all other evidence redundant. Tressel indisputably knew about Pryor's violations and others, communicated extensively about them with people outside of the program but (as far as we know) none within, signed a compliance form that said he knew nothing, knowingly kept multiple ineligible players on the field for an entire season, successfully lobbied to keep those same players eligible for the bowl while still claiming to have known nothing even after the violations had come to the attention of the NCAA and then the entire country. In retrospect, the memorabilia sales that came to light just before Christmas look like small potatoes, and it's likely Tressel knew that, too.
The Ohio State and USC cases are similar in the sense that they both involve a star accepting a lot of money from shady characters on the fringes of the program, but the the case against OSU is on a different level. Where USC's violations (as chronicled by the NCAA's final verdict) involved a single player, Ohio State's involve potentially dozens. Where USC consistently disputed that anyone involved in the program knew what was going on with Bush and the sketchy evidence the NCAA used to reach that conclusion, Ohio State has very publicly copped to its head coach's knowledge of the violations and his lengthy, intentional coverup of both. The NCAA has formally accused it of both. If the Committee on Infractions needs any more than that to do at least what it did to USC last year, it was never up to the job, anyway.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.